A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the sea-change that took place in Scottish brewing during the course of 2016 – the flood of new brewery openings (35) being underpinned by the ever-increasing emergence of nano- and contract breweries. This smallness of scale and the inherent agility it provides makes it much easier to bring your wares to the market as it requires far lower overheads – but with the caveat that it won’t turnover a huge amount either. Those that make their peace with that fact can get their beers out there faster than ever before, without the age-old problem of scraping together capital to construct their own large-scale production brewery.
It’s an interesting shift, and one that maybe business or brewing students of the future may well look back on – depending on how things shake out. When they do, I think they could do far worse than look to one Edinburgh brewery in particular as a case study. Paul Gibson at Campervan Brewery has a unique story but one that fits into a narrative that will become increasingly familiar. Paul announced a couple of weeks ago that he has commissioned a 10BBL production brewery that is currently being installed on Bonnington Road in Edinburgh. This is one heck of a jump from the beginnings of Campervan – and yet, in feeling there was no alternative the move is the perfect model to take a closer look at.
Despite his beers being on the market for just shy of two years, Paul’s brewery has gone through several stages that chart the classic rise of a small-scale brewer and the moment when the Very Big Decision needs to be taken. The whole pathway revolves around economies of scale, and as I see it has run something like this:-
– Start Small (live within your means)
– Develop a USP (in Paul’s case – the amazing 1973 Type 2 Volkswagen)
– Grow and increase awareness
– Reach Ceiling 1 and contract-brew
– Have concerns about contracting
– Want to regain control of the process
– Reach Ceiling 2 and the Very Big Decision
Which is Paul’s case, resulted in this…
Check out the new mobile brewery pic.twitter.com/9Fl9xXbeZu
— Campervan Brewery (@campervanbrew) February 6, 2017
It is fantastic news too – that moment where the realisation strikes that in order to continue you either need to be satisfied with what you have or roll the dice must be terrifying and liberating at the same time – even for someone with the inbuilt liberation of being able to brew anywhere you like from the Campervan. But the difficulty of keeping up with demand from a mobile and garage-based 50L Brewmeister kit is obvious – Paul’s talent at brewing meant he reached the first ceiling extremely quickly and had to look to other facilities to create enough Campervan beer to fulfil orders and maintain the buzz about this new arrival on the scene. Trouble is, brewers are by nature perfectionists and control-freaks, so working in someone else’s kitchen doesn’t make for a satisfied chef.
Paul’s original plan was to ‘gypsy brew’ in this way for three years, to supply the order sheets and keep his beers on the shelves and bar counters whilst working on smaller-batch stuff from his garage kit in north-western Edinburgh. But he’s taken the jump already, prompted by the restrictions of not having total control and being unable to scale up the recipes as planned – a major strike against those contemplating contract brewing their beloved and much-honed recipes. When the time comes to produce far greater batch sizes, it takes a great deal of finagling to get everything working and tasting the same. So it was time to reach for the chequebook.
The new unit for Campervan is 2,500 square feet and sits just off Bonnington Road (a stone’s throw from Pilot Beer, as it happens). The 10BBL kit will be supported by two fermenters and a single conditioning tank, but with room to expand. When installed and operational within a month or so, expect to see more of Paul’s beer – and new ones at that – arrive very soon afterwards. It’s great to see someone taking the plunge in this way, even before they had planned to do so, and the new home for Campervan and the way in which they played out their first couple of years could well act as a dossier to how breweries evolve, for future students of the industry…